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Why New York's Skyline Has a Distinct Look

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Why do so many of New York's older skyscrapers have a similar design? The answer can be traced back to a monumental 1916 zoning law, which established “setback” requirements for buildings above a certain height. In the heart of the Financial District, the Equitable Building, a historic skyscraper that predates the law, remains a symbol of the excesses of the pre-zoning era. Video by Raymond Schillinger Camera: Brian Schildhorn Additional Production: Ren Potts, Jordan Oplinger, Maya Greene Graphics: Christian Capestany Special thanks to: Silverstein Properties Carol Willis - Founder, Director, and Curator of The Skyscraper Museum New York City Department of City Planning Archival Photographs from Getty Images, POND5 #NYC #history #architecture
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Text Comments (277)
LadyAmanita (13 hours ago)
You can see this even in skyscrapers built during the Mad Men era- the 50's into the early 60's. Here's some notable examples- 270 Park Avenue and 1285 6th avenue (1960), 1290 6th Avenue (1963) and 277 Park Avenue (1964). However, architectural fashion had changed- clients wanted sleek, modern towers instead of the "frozen fountain" look popular during the Art Deco era. So architects moved most of the setbacks to the sides and backs of the buildings, giving them the appearance of having tails, after a fashion. People notice the tall and sleek tower fronting the avenue, but often don't see that there's a whole tail section happening too, which often contains a sizeable chunk of floor space. 1290 6th Avenue's got the most complicated arrangement of setbacks of any of these towers.
Derpster (20 hours ago)
Old european buildings are the opposite. The higher you go, the wider they get.
News Moto (2 days ago)
Well produced film! Keep it up!
Fresh Haus (3 days ago)
This is incentive for lot mergers because you have to create a larger lot area to allow a building to be taller. It also further concentrates wealth because people with smaller lots face more limitations.
Angelchildxx (4 days ago)
Actually with the fReedom tower the skyline of NY have dramatically worsened. It was so WAY BETTER with the twin towers that those fucking (dead) animals have took it down.
MegasAlexandru (5 days ago)
Ok, but what about the twin towers back then? They had straight walls from the bottom to the top
cvt cvt (5 days ago)
New Yorkers are all about controlling others.
It is georgous, especially on the inside. I have actually been in it .
EJ Ioane (7 days ago)
wow , I visited Manhattan from Australia a few months ago and I looked back at the photos I took from the empire state building roof top and I had always notice how the older sky scrappers were shaped distinctively from the newer sky scrapers and now I found the answer. NYC is such a fascinating place and I look forward to returning there some time soon and I want to see a college marching band too.
silver70 (8 days ago)
Love learning new things!
EinChris75 (9 days ago)
That time when laws balanced all sides of requirements...
TheSpacecraftX (10 days ago)
Isn't it just a generic skyscraper fest?
starrychloe (10 days ago)
Houston and Grafton, New Hampshire have no zoning laws.
Viniso (10 days ago)
The Twin Towers didn't seem to respect this law.
Pyro Paragon (9 days ago)
They were set far from the street in a plaza
BulbousBumbo376 (10 days ago)
They hit the sky limit
AiSard (11 days ago)
Should have covered Air Rights as well. The tug and pull between developers and regulations.
Beacon of Wierd (11 days ago)
CazzyK (11 days ago)
What is the music????
Ted Morris (11 days ago)
And then we got the Twin Towers, jutting upwards and not inwards, long and slender and majestic. Man those were great buildings.
Ted Morris (2 days ago)
Indeed, in fact I know several native New Yorkers who hated the original WTC complex, but now you have the freedom tower, which just doesn't have anything close to as powerful an imprint on the skyline. Unfortunately we can never have the twin towers back.
godofthisshit (3 days ago)
Ted Morris People originally thought they were ugly. I guess they were as individual buildings but together they were amazing. Freedom tower dropped the ball.
zachary hebert (11 days ago)
f u bloomberg
Alexander Martin (11 days ago)
So its this laws fault I can't work, shop, live, in one mega skyscraper.
Pyro Paragon (9 days ago)
Celina k (11 days ago)
2:05 nice 3:20 not nice It's why you don't see the european tradition of having small boutiques and apartments above them.
Jacob Chap (11 days ago)
Huh. Neat.
Norman J. Murk (12 days ago)
I'm a builder and that's one of the coolest things I've learned yet, thanks for that!
ChrisGeez (12 days ago)
I thought this vid would discuss how differences in the depth and size of the bedrock across Manhattan limits how tall buildings can be because of varying weight-bearing limits.
osriodore (12 days ago)
Otis always made the best elevators
chicee123 (12 days ago)
Chicago's got the best skyline.
Clems First (12 days ago)
Did I hear estate ? Don't worry... It's free real estate.
It has a disgusting sky line, look at that concrete jungle? No wonder European nations dont want their cities to look like American concrete jungles, truly disgusting. Why in any ones mind would you want to visit New York? There is nothing there and that applies to the US as a whole. Personally i would only go to LA or whatever for the gun range and that is it. History is so small i would best go to Switzerland to get more history. Skyline is made of concrete, horrible
shng sam (13 days ago)
but why is it in shape of "H" when trying to maximize space, wouldn't building it in a square shape have more space? ( the 2 indent in the H will be used )
shng sam (12 days ago)
ooh, this makes sense. building it in H will maximize number of windows
The Danger (12 days ago)
shng sam A square wouldn't have an outside view and for an office it's a bad thing
Oliver Heady (13 days ago)
Wow, awesome video!
Mastro (13 days ago)
Mind. Blown.
Clif Dickens (13 days ago)
Such a well-crafted video that finds the sweet spot between informative and engaging.
pavan patel (13 days ago)
Scott Anderson (13 days ago)
Michael Bloomberg is a ninny
stenbak88 (13 days ago)
Government regulation only hurts
cold_vanilla_soy_latte (12 days ago)
Not only the people owning a building and working in it are affected by its height, but also other inhabitants of a city. To protect their interests (sunlight, desirable landscape, et cetera) it is very reasonable to enforce regulations.
Mike Richard (13 days ago)
stenbak88 is wrong. REGULATION SAVES LIVES.
Michael King (13 days ago)
Housing in NYC and DC is expensive because of zoning laws
Michael King (13 days ago)
Muh real estate values
Michael King (13 days ago)
How is it too big?
Mike Richard (13 days ago)
Tony13000000 (13 days ago)
It isn't now but back then it was huge, and with the financial districts narrow streets it cast a shadow over everything
Michael King (13 days ago)
Fuck zoning laws
Tommy Amato (13 days ago)
Very weird how the thing you learn your first week in architecture school can become a super interesting video to so many. Great video by Bloomberg, editing and graphics were top notch.
Masood Shaikh (13 days ago)
Is there an exception to that rule? I notice the UN building (at 4:00) isn't built in that style.. and it's pretty broad too. Although it's in a less dense area, there's a similar older building (at 3:39) which is also in an open area, but has the stepped design. Any thoughts?
Michael King (13 days ago)
It has a setback
X X (14 days ago)
very interesting
I am Jobu (14 days ago)
So the empire state building was just an architect's idea of trolling the zoning law
Brad the Pitts (14 days ago)
Born & raised - I did NOT know this.
noreworks (14 days ago)
I've seen so many fact videos in youtube, it's really rare to see something that's actually never been discussed before 👍🏻
Anderson Klein (14 days ago)
Basically all was going good until the cronies had to regulate to keep rent prices high. Thanks to zoning laws nowadays you have to commute by car for hours or pay stupendous amounts of rent to live downtown, all because someone thought it was a good idea to restrict where apartment complexes and offices can be built. Now people life far from their work which wastes billions of commute hours nationwide and hurts the environment.
EpicKaiserTom (12 days ago)
Not all of it was zoning laws, though it certainly didn't help. I would say most of that specific problem was the trillions we spent in subsidizing the automobile through our extensive road and highway system, which subsidized suburban sprawl as a result.
Mariela Band (14 days ago)
Could this please be 20 minutes longer?
Pradeep Kalaimaran (15 days ago)
The amount of work that has gone into this four minute long video is substantial. So pleasing to watch. You made it look so simple and perhaps, that's the sign of excellent content. Thanks! Keep going!
eVCephei (16 days ago)
jeremyscharlack (17 days ago)
Hugh Ferriss, an architectural illustrator, did some very cool drawings of how buildings could look with the 1916 zoning not long after the law was passed. An example (google yields a few more): https://www.skyscraper.org/EXHIBITIONS/FUTURE_CITY/NEW_YORK_MODERN/walkthrough_1916.php
J.Jarvis (18 days ago)
I love old buildings that are made with stone. Amazing work.
sarcasmo57 (18 days ago)
Kind of makes me feel like building a building.
William Henley (14 days ago)
First you would need to build on your knowledge of building buildings in order to build a building
Kyle Li (19 days ago)
I cant look at them in any different way now... oh boy
Tom H. (19 days ago)
New York is the only city with a really good, memorable skyline. All others have skylines that are undistinctive or to some extent gimmicky.
RaymondHng (11 days ago)
The Transmerica Pyramid (along with the Mt. Sutro transmission tower) has been making the San Francisco skyline distinctive since the '70s. The newly built Salesforce tower surpassed it as the tallest building in the city.
EnigmaNET (11 days ago)
I got a Bentley advert. I bet they paid loads for that lol. I'm never going to be able to afford a Bently. They don't need to advertise. The name is enough.
EnigmaNET (11 days ago)
Spelling mistake is a spelling mistake is a spelling mistake
Clerisvaldo Nogueira (11 days ago)
Dude it's spelled Bentley
SillySOSedge (12 days ago)
If the name is enough, then why can't you spell it?
lee Roberts (12 days ago)
You got a bemyly ad...I got a cat food commerical.
kairon156 (18 days ago)
I have noticed NewYork's buildings went inword as it went up but I never knew it was because of zoning laws. Also, Some places have laws for having so much ground area wrather it's parks or what ever around a tower.
Erick Lopez (1 month ago)
The City of Los Angeles was actually the first to regulate land use going back to 1904. https://recode.la/sites/default/files/file_attachments/basic_page/OrdNo9774-ResidentialDistricts%28July%2025%201904%29.pdf
Luelzia Graca (1 month ago)
I wish I could go NYC
MLuisendy Fernandez (1 month ago)
Am I the only one who think that 432 park ave look slightly like the World Trade Center twin towers
Guillaume Duteaud (2 months ago)
Hey! Could you link to the article quoted in the video regarding evil effects? Can’t find it on my own. Thanks!
Kieran Jansz (3 months ago)
I thought this was about the Nissan GT-R
Augus Javed (3 months ago)
432 Bark Ave......in Staten Island....a building in the shape of a 775 foot tall beagle....to honor this fine hound of renown🎺🎺🎺🎺🎺🎉🎉🎉
Augus Javed (3 months ago)
same ole, same ole....dull, lifeless,static bland building projects...glass curtain wall....too boring.......we need a new approach....a new theme and style...I new mind set....since the beginning of skyscrapers it has always been to honor business and industry....or religion.... ...Dullsville Merghatroyd....... How about honoring the women and females of the world....the women who bore us ..... don't they deserve an honor , and statement in architecture ???....to do them proud?? I give you proudly 👉👉👉👉 One Ovary Place a 167 floor...2154 foot tall building in the shape of an ovary.....located near Sutton Place in new York. ......mixed use. ..maternity hospital residential,business,retail,and entertainment.... it's sure to raise some discussion💁💁💁💁
matt O (3 months ago)
why is a building called a building if it is already built?
IgorD (4 days ago)
Because it is forever in a process of building. Next time you walk into one - patch a hole in a wall or nail a step, buddy! .. but don't point a finger at me when they catch you drawing a bigger dick on a renaissance painting at your local museum.
Anon B (5 days ago)
Building has two fairly distinct meanings as a noun, if you think about it: * Something already constructed - "it's one of the ugliest buildings in the city". * The process of constructing something - "the building of the pyramids took many years". (There are a few other meanings of "building" - as in adding to something, or gaining sympathy, but that's for another discussion.)
Dan RBLX (5 days ago)
matt O it should be called a Built-ing
Zzac24 (6 days ago)
Apocto Yeah you’re right. There are lots of examples where the gerund (form of a verb ending in ‘ing’) of the verb is used as a noun. I think they are simply called ‘noun verbs’ or as you said ‘substantive verbs’ “I like running” “Keeping active is important for your health” are a few examples. It’s actually very common.
Apocto (7 days ago)
In English there are substantive adjectives, where an adjective acts like a noun, like good. You might say, "I do good." Good acts like a noun but is technically an adjective. There's not a proper construct for things like building or painting, but I like to think about them as substantive verbs.
Jessica Anderson (3 months ago)
right on
monobg antonina (3 months ago)
What about all the all glass and steel more modern skyscrapers that just start and continue in a straight line to the top? Like the WTC for example?
Allen Zhang (3 months ago)
Do one on Chicago!
Rose Bubbles (3 months ago)
Dubai "Our height limit is bloody space"
Takyi Kobbie (3 months ago)
Wow New York in 1960 looks better than my country
cloud ix (3 months ago)
Only took them 25 years #godzilla
Awesome Me (3 months ago)
wait this is not vox?
Alex (3 days ago)
Awesome Me vox is garbage
Luc Laan (3 months ago)
How about 9/11?
MrGriff305 (3 months ago)
the old twin towers sort of ignored setbacks
Clerisvaldo Nogueira (11 days ago)
+Mike Richard they didn't fell because of their height, they fell because some assholes in the middle East wanted to prove a point
Mike Richard (13 days ago)
MrGriff305 , imagine how many lives would have been saved if they just complied with the old law !
MrGriff305 (3 months ago)
Bloomberg .. That makes sense. I think the vertical faces of the twins contributed to their skyline prominence. For example... they always looked much bigger than the Empire State Building from far away. This was an interesting video. Thank you!
Bloomberg (3 months ago)
Thanks for your comment! The original World Trade Center towers (which were built after the updated 1961 Zoning Resolution) were built on a large, multi-block plaza. This meant the towers were technically "set back" from the street far enough to be built to their record-setting heights without a visible setback in the structure.
Shaylah M. (3 months ago)
So interesting!!!!!$
Nathan Schaefer (3 months ago)
Oh wow, this is actually really fascinating
Tristan Möller (3 months ago)
Wow. Learned something, nice video. Glad to see that the Zoning Resolution was very well thought out and worked out for the city. Yeah, here in Europe skyscrapers were proposed in some cities in Germany (of course we barely have need for them), but in many cases we also don’t want them.
Bob Jonson (3 months ago)
AcidOllie (3 months ago)
I must be getting old because I found this absolutely fascinating.
A Cote (6 days ago)
+DGRIFF! Yeah I love interior design and architecture, It's so intriguing to see what people come up with out of endless possibilities to live in
DGRIFF! (6 days ago)
+A Cote You are either an old soul or are on the spectrum. Either way, much respect!
Martim Xavier (8 days ago)
17 years old, don't give a damn about architecture, but still love this
FreeriderNation (11 days ago)
21yo construction engineer student. Found this super fascinating.
Lifeisgood72 (12 days ago)
I’m 15 and been obsessed with architecture since I was 13
Sam Fox (3 months ago)
Is the One World Trade Center an exception to this code?
Julian Collot (4 months ago)
Death to zoning laws!
WeedTaco (4 months ago)
Speed Levich explained this to me once while on a walk
Andrew Weizer (4 months ago)
I pass that building all the time never noticed hot beautiful it is until now
ShadowWhelp (4 months ago)
Honestly just always assumed buildings were built that way for stability.
Gradius (7 days ago)
They also look much more interesting so it's a win all round really.
Harm (12 days ago)
such building shapes actually are more stable, so you aren’t entirely wrong
trevvor philip (13 days ago)
i thought it was for wind resistance
J (13 days ago)
yeah like a pyramid
Kaniki Kn (3 months ago)
Bernadette (4 months ago)
And now I work in this building. Very cool
Bella Umbrellla (4 months ago)
Everything is obscenely large and obnoxiously loud here in the city...but it's home for now, we are gucci💕💕💕
Harley Pearce (4 months ago)
Historically forget suburban implement curtain say before trade volunteer survivor goal possess.
Generic Name (13 days ago)
What the fuck did I just read?
Mark Q (4 months ago)
The original skyscraper NIMBY's. We've been fighting a hard battle with them ever since.
Ben (4 months ago)
omg govt works.
Dodo Shade (4 months ago)
thx . this was informative and interesting.
BHRxRACER (4 months ago)
is that the guy that does wendover productions?
Michael King (13 days ago)
Sounds similar but no
RWB 3vil (4 months ago)
The guy narrating sounds like Otocon from the MGS series
Jai Guru (4 months ago)
While I didn't know the politics behind this, who has eyes and didn't notice the step design of skyscrapers?
Play Thing (4 months ago)
Dude, don't drink coffee or anything that makes your teeth "sticky" before voicing over, I can hear the lip smacks.
Miss Ashlee (15 days ago)
Quite a nit pick there.
Games (4 months ago)
This would be more comfortably watchable if it was edited / uploaded at 60 fps. All those very hard lines u use look terribly juddery at 30 fps
Ethan Tremblay (4 months ago)
Very interesting and informative. Thank you @Bloomberg
xX NarutoShippuden Xx (4 months ago)
Old days: *complains of how big it is* Nowadays: *laughs of how little it is*
Too many regulations and rules in America but that's good I guess
cold_vanilla_soy_latte (12 days ago)
+Michael King There are not enough regulations. In the video's context: Not only the people owning a building and working in it are affected by its height, but also other inhabitants of a city. To protect their interests (sunlight, desirable landscape, et cetera) it is very reasonable to enforce regulations.
Michael King (13 days ago)
No it's not good
AwesomeSauce (4 months ago)
Sounds like mayor was playing cities skylines. Zoning low density and shit.

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